The Sanders phenomenon: What does it mean and where is it going?
Although it had been widely predicted, the landslide victory of Bernie sanders in the New Hampshire primary produced shock waves. After narrowly losing in Iowa (and it is quite likely the result was rigged), Sanders beat Clinton by a margin of more than 20 last Tuesday. This result has produced bewilderment among the commentators. That was something that was not supposed to happen.
“Theory is grey, my friend, but the tree of life is evergreen” (Goethe’s Faust)
Although it had been widely predicted, the landslide victory of Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary produced shock waves. After narrowly losing in Iowa (and it is quite likely the result was rigged), Sanders beat Clinton by a margin of more than 20 last Tuesday. This result has produced bewilderment among the commentators. That was something that was not supposed to happen.
That a 74-year-old socialist could win in both Iowa and New Hampshire seemed unthinkable in a primary campaign that was supposed to be a shoo-in for Hillary Clinton. Democratic voters were surely too practical to embrace a candidate who pushed policies such as a single-payer health insurance, attacked Wall Street, called for a political revolution and even called himself a democratic socialist.
For months the news media tried to ignore the Sanders' candidacy. All the attention was devoted to Donald Trump, while it was taken for granted that Hillary Clinton would dominate the race for the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. But things did not turn out like that. As it becomes clear that Sanders is becoming a serious contender, the whole weight of the Democratic Party machine will be deployed to in a determined attempt to stop him.
Hillary Clinton has the support of the Democratic elite, from elected officials to leaders of key activist groups. She was backed by an army of celebrities and wealthy endorsers and all the rest of the well-heeled gang that constitute the bourgeois Democrat Establishment. Barack Obama threw his weight behind Clinton, lavishing praise on her and rubbishing Sanders' ideas as “unrealistic.” By all the laws, then, Sanders should have stood little or no chance. But it was all in vain. Both nationwide, and in the early primary states, Bernie Sanders succeeded in trouncing Clinton. How could this happen?
Part of the explanation consists in the fact that Sanders succeeded in mobilising mass support. He based himself on a huge grassroots network and fundraising base. Sanders has held some of the biggest rallies of any of the candidates - Democratic or Republican. Hundreds of events were held, often with overflow crowds that heard him call for a "political revolution" in America. His Facebook “likes” vastly outnumber those of Hillary Clinton. The main driving force for this was the youth. That much must be clear to the blindest of the blind. But this explanation itself needs to be explained.
It cannot be explained by the personal qualities of Sanders, although he has certainly shown great courage and resilience in the face of a barrage of attacks and insults. Yet he is an elderly white man with a somewhat eccentric air. The main reason is to be found in profound changes in consciousness that are taking place in American society.
Democracy for the billionaires
In the USA there was already a sense of alienation from the political parties. Now that alienation is turning into hatred. It is here that we must find the explanation for the rapid ascent of Bernie Sanders. Beneath the surface of American society there is a seething discontent, anger and above all frustration. Like the tremendous forces that build up beneath the earth’s crust, this discontent is seeking an outlet. Sooner or later that outlet will be found, and it may be in the most unexpected places.
The economic crash of 2008 and its aftermath turned the American Dream into an American Nightmare for millions. That affects the youth above all, but increasingly there is a questioning of capitalism among broad layers of society. The vast amounts of public money handed over to the super-rich one percent; the glaring contrast between obscene wealth and degrading poverty; the arrogance of the political elites: all these things have created a burning sense of injustice that finds no expression in the existing political parties. We see the same phenomenon everywhere.
In the USA, elections are won or lost and presidential candidates are selected or rejected, not on the basis of their ideas or superior personal qualities, but solely on the size of their bank balances and campaign war chest. To be the President of the world’s richest country, one has either to be a billionaire or else have the backing of several billionaires. Democracy is turned into an empty word. It is government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Hillary Clinton started the year 2016 with a war chest of £100 million from Big Business backers.
In contrast, Sanders has raised more than $100 million in donations, the vast majority of which are below $100, from the public. After his success in New Hampshire his website for fund-raising crashed because so many people were sending in money. Asked in a debate to spell out the difference between his and Clinton’s plans for dealing with big banks, Sanders responded: "The first difference is, I don't take money from big banks, I don't get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs”.
Clinton received $675,000 in speaking fees in 2015 alone from Goldman Sachs, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Bill and Hillary Clinton have made more than $153m from paid speeches over the last 15 yearsaccording to a CNN study. This includes at least $7.7m from 39 speeches to Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs, UBS and Bank of America. Naturally Hillary indignantly denied that this corporate generosity had exercised any influence on her political preferences, but as we know, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Hillary Clinton personifies all that people most dislike in American politics. She is the consummate expression of the Establishment. Not a single hair is out of place. The simpering smile is fixed at all times. The speeches are carefully scripted, the public appearances choreographed as in a ballet. In complete contrast, Sanders gives the impression of a man who doesn’t give a damn about his appearance. And it is precisely this that endears him to his young fans. As one journalist put it: “his unkempt hair, his ill-fitting suits, his unpolished Brooklyn accent, his propensity to yell and wave his hands maniacally. Sanders, it appears, woke up like this. These qualities are what make him seem ‘authentic,’ ‘sincere’ even.”
We will ignore the insinuation that Sanders’ poor dress sense is merely a device to make him look “authentic” (whatever this might mean) or that his sincerity is somehow contrived. We have no reason to doubt Bernie Sanders’ sincerity, although we do not necessarily agree with all his ideas. As for Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic marionettes of Wall Street, insincerity has always been second nature to them. It is absolutely essential for one that must appear to stand for the interests of the “common people”, while in fact carrying out policies that favour the rich and powerful. And they all naturally have impeccable dress sense, as indeed does any lackey. It goes with the job.
Trump and Sanders
Bernie Sanders has tapped into a mood of discontent in American society. There is a growing revulsion against the Establishment, the politicians in sharp suits who cosy up to the bankers, handing out vast sums of public money to the rich, while imposing vicious cuts of welfare spending on the poor. People are tired of it and want a change. The Financial Times on 9 February commented:
“What is already clear, however, is that America’s political class is only beginning to grasp the depth of the anti-establishment mood that is gripping the US. Almost eight years after the financial crisis, this mood seems to be growing in strength, not weakening. President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that the US unemployment rate is now below 5 per cent barely registered on the campaign trail.”
The attention of the media in these primaries has centred almost exclusively on Donald Trump. In a twisted and reactionary way, even he expresses this mood. He cultivates a blunt “plebeian” style of speaking that contrasts with the stilted, anodyne Washington-speak of the other candidates, who specialise in empty platitudes. That explains his popularity in the Republican ranks and his trouncing all his rivals in New Hampshire to the dismay of the Party Establishment.
This billionaire with a big mouth and an even bigger bank balance stands for Big Business just as much as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. The difference is that some of them attempt to conceal their reactionary policies beneath a thin veneer of moderation, while Trump uses populist demagogy and pretends to stand for the “small guy” as a means of delivering the small guys, bound hand and foot, to the tender mercies of Big Business. He presents himself in the role of a rebellious maverick, fighting against the “Washington Establishment”. The difference between Trump and the others is one of style, not content. But with a public that is tired of carefully manicured politicians uttering carefully manicured speeches, differences in style can easily be mistaken for a radical difference in content. Here, as in the art of prestidigitation, the quickness of the hand deceives the eye.
Like Trump, Bernie Sanders speaks in a way that is very different to the manner of the political elite. But unlike Trump, he advocates policies that strike a note with underprivileged and underpaid American workers. He rages against economic and social injustice and rails against the Establishment. Students are struggling to pay off unpayable debts and parents have to work in two or three low-paid jobs to make ends meet. The idea that the economy is ‘rigged’ in favour of the rich elite has struck a chord with millions of people.
Many Republican voters have been impressed by Sanders. Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman points out that both Trump and Sanders are saying things that would have been unthinkable not long ago. “Yet the fact that both men are happy to smash rhetorical taboos has strengthened their respective claims to be genuine outsiders. That seems to be what voters are looking for.” (Our emphasis)
Young people in the USA were not supposed to be interested in politics. That is hardly surprising. What was there to be interested in? Politics was boring: a senseless circus in which Democrats changed places with Republicans with monotonous regularity without anybody noticing the slightest difference. But now all that has changed. American politics have suddenly become interesting.
The main force that is propelling the change is the youth. One British observer described the support for Sanders among the young as “stunning”. The movement, at least initially, was not so much the result of an organised effort by the Sanders campaign, but more of a visceral response to the candidate himself. A generation that has been the most bombarded with marketing slogans and slick advertising now sees in Sanders something different and strangely attractive. In interviews, young supporters of the Vermont senator’s presidential bid almost all offer some version of the same response when asked why they like him: Here is a man who seems sincere.
Armies of young people are turning what seemed like a hopeless cause into a very effective campaign. One volunteer says: “Things that you would never expect from a traditional campaign. It’s mind-blowing to see.” Most young voters (and many older ones) have a deep-seated distrust of politicians. The hostility toward Ms. Clinton among young voters is striking. Suffering from economic hardship and the burden of college loans, they can see that she is too cosy with big banks and corporate America. But Sanders is seen as something different.
“It seems like he is at the point in his life when he is really saying what he is thinking,” said Olivia Sauer, 18, a college freshman who returned to her hometown, Ames, Iowa, to caucus for Bernie Sanders. “With Hillary,” she said, “sometimes you get this feeling that all of her sentences are owned by someone.” That is very perceptive observation. These sentences are not her own. They are written by someone else. But it is not only her speeches that are not her own. Her heart, soul, mind and conscience are all owned by someone else, and that someone is called Wall Street.
Growing support for socialism
The growing support for Bernie Sanders signals a dramatic change in the political landscape in the United States, and therefore, the world. It is all the more remarkable in a country where socialist ideas have been suppressed and demonised. As Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell grudgingly admitted on Friday 29th January, the current generation of youth, to which she belongs, "love Sanders not despite his socialism, but because of it… Many of us also entered the job market just as unbridled capitalism appeared to blow up the world economy. Perhaps for this reason, millennials actually seem to prefer socialism to capitalism."
“In my column today, I mentioned that one reason millennials prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton is that they’re not just willing to look past Sanders’s socialism — they actually like his socialism. It’s a feature, not a bug.”
A YouGov survey asked people whether they had a favourable or unfavourable opinion of socialism and of capitalism, and the results were broken down by various demographic groups:
52 percent expressed a favourable view of capitalism, compared with 29 percent for socialism. But this does not tell the whole story. Republicans, those in families earning more than $100,000, and people age 65-plus were more strongly in favour of capitalism compared with socialism. However, Democrats rated socialism and capitalism equally positively (both at 42 percent favourability). And the under 30s rated socialism more favourably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively).
While “socialist” was the only category for which a majority of respondents said they’d be unwilling to vote, the most striking fact is that 47 percent said they would vote for a socialist.
Young people proved to be about equally or more open-minded than their elders on all the categories Gallup tested, but the biggest gap between young and old was on “socialist” candidates: Here too the difference is in line with the age of the respondents: While 34 percent of respondents age 65 and older said they would be willing to vote for a socialist, the number among respondents younger than 30 was almost double – 69 percent.
This indicates a major shift in consciousness that is striking in the youth but is not confined to them. Despite the colossal barrage of anti-socialist propaganda to which the American public has been subjected for many decades, the fact that over a third of older people are willing to vote socialist is itself quite remarkable. And we should bear in mind that these figures are from last June, before the Sanders campaign had gathered momentum. There can be no doubt that support for socialism has increased since then. The Iowa result was already an indication of that, and it is confirmed by the result in New Hampshire.
The Establishment is alarmed
For as long as anyone can remember American capitalism was based on two solid props: the Democrats and Republicans. Now that apparently solid edifice is showing cracks in its foundations and the bourgeois are getting alarmed. Bloomberg View on 5 Feb carried an article with the heading: Bernie Sanders, Public Menace. It says the following: “Senator Bernie Sanders is a decent human being and a passionate politician. He is also a grave threat to moderation and rational empiricism. Sanders's robust campaign for president is consequently a threat to the U.S. as well.”
But things are not much better with the other party of Big Business:
“The Republican Party has been debilitated, as a source of policies and as a governing party, by the ever more stringent ideological demands that the party's powerful and adamant fringe imposes on its diminished and enfeebled center. It has succumbed so thoroughly to the paranoid style of politics that the leading Republican presidential candidate from the so-called establishment wing routinely suggests that President Barack Obama is a nefarious agent of the nation's doom. Delusional, rancid talk has become so commonplace on the right that it rarely merits notice anymore.”
The greatest fear of the strategists of US Capital is that the crisis of capitalism will lead to a sharp polarisation to the left and right, that is to say, a class polarisation. That is what they mean when they refer to a “diminished and enfeebled center”. Above all they fear Bernie Sanders, not so much for the man himself (they have many ways of destroying or annulling individual politicians) but the forces he has unleashed.
Sanders, the article says, has “unwelcome attributes”. What are these? He is “almost exclusively animated by economic inequality and injustice.” What a terrible thing! A presidential candidate who is opposed to inequality and injustice! It goes on:
“The American economy, a sprawling, $18 trillion behemoth stretching and contracting in more directions at once than anyone can possibly comprehend, much less control, is ‘rigged,’ Sanders says. This claim, too, owes much to a paranoid style. Who has rigged this giganotosaurus of disparate goods and endlessly varied services? Perhaps "Wall Street." Or maybe ‘corporations.’”
The indignation of Bloomberg View knows no bounds. How could anyone in their right mind believe that the big banks and corporations have rigged the economy in their own interest? To which we reply: How could anyone in their right mind believe anything else? But the real fears of corporate America are expressed in the following:
“In politics, any force too spectral to wear a proper name is too elusive to be contained by government or law. Sanders all but admits as much. He posits that his election to the White House, where he would command the vast levers of the executive branch, would be insufficient to unrig things. A majority of electoral votes might suffice for a "moderate" like Hillary Clinton; Sanders, however, requires a "revolution." (Our emphasis)
One may say that Sanders’ call for a political revolution is unclear. Maybe so, but its meaning is very clear to the strategists of Capital. If Sanders were ever to be elected President he would be faced with a hostile Congress – not least among the Democrats, most of whom hate and fear him. They would first try to buy him off, recruit him to their side, a tactic they have developed to a fine art for generations. But what if that did not succeed? The problem is spelt out here with the most astonishing cynicism:
“None of these problems is a hindrance to Sanders in the Senate, where he is one of 100. But Sanders is no longer content there. He is trying to build a movement to dominate the Democratic Party and go on to win the White House. Democrats can ill afford either outcome.”
By constantly raising the idea of revolution, Sanders has struck a chord with many people who feel that the present system is rotten and corrupt to the marrow. This has planted seeds in the minds of people that will grow and acquire a mass expression in the measure that the crisis of capitalism deepens. The consequences are incalculable. Gideon Rachman underlines the dangers for the ruling class – and not only in the USA:
“If America’s yearning for anti-establishment leaders from the political fringes continues, the implications will be profound — for the US and for the world. The system, dominated by the Democrats and Republicans, has always rejected the political extremes. That means that, behind the day-to-day dramas, the nation has benefited from a deep political stability, which has contributed greatly to its economic strength and global power. If America’s immunity to extremism is ending, the whole world will feel the consequences.”
Women were expected to help power Hillary Clinton to the Democratic nomination, but young women have been drawn to the cause of Bernie Sanders. This has caused outrage and resentment among feminists like author Gloria Steinem. She is a devout supporter of Hillary Clinton. Together with other older feminists she has been waging a campaign against Sanders for alleged sexism. Here, however, Ms. Steinem has come up against a thorny problem: a very large number of young women are actively campaigning for Bernie sanders.
A dirty smear campaign has been launched by the Clinton camp to suggest that the independent socialist’s enthusiastic social media army (the “Bernie Bros”) alienates female voters. The latest of these creatures to crawl out of the woodwork is Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who recently appeared at a rally for Clinton where she all but accused young women of “betraying their gender”. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” she announced, in the hope that this most imaginative threat to send all females who supported Bernie to an uncomfortably warm place would do the trick where all else had failed.
What special place in hell is reserved for a woman who has served the cause of US imperialism all her life and maintained that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of US sanctions was "worth it", Ms. Albright did not deign to inform us. These smears immediately provoked a storm of protest from many women. Although many would naturally like to see a woman standing for President, they understand that one should not vote for a candidate based solely on gender. They far prefer Bernie Sanders to the likes Hillary Clinton, and Madeleine Albright. And who can blame them for that?
The beleaguered Steinem and Albright, however, were soon to receive reinforcement from somebody who is well known for his friendly attitude to women - William Jefferson Clinton, also known as Bill. The former occupant of the White House is now enjoying a moderately comfortable retirement, having amassed an estimated $80 million for services rendered to America (that is, to the American bankers and capitalists). Since Hillary Clinton's net worth is in the region of $31.3 million, the combined net worth of Bill and Hillary mounts to around 111 million dollars. Of course, if Hillary gets back into the White House, the fortunes of the Clinton family would be considerably improved. So it is no real surprise that Old Bill emerges from retirement to express his fervent support for his wife.
The former president spoke for nearly 50 minutes, and the longer he spoke, the more heated he became. The heated nature of his remarks clearly expressed the frustration the Clintons felt two days before the primary in New Hampshire - a state that has rewarded them in the past, but that was preparing to deliver them a hearty slap in the face. Old Bill seemed especially irritated that New Hampshire, after lifting his 1992 bid for the Democratic nomination and handing her a comeback win in 2008, was ready now ditch his wife. His rage at the thought reached its paroxysm when he finally pulled out what he must have seen as his most effective weapon: the gender issue. Sanders supporters, he said, use misogynistic language in attacking Mrs. Clinton.
We do not know what the audience made of this performance. But as far as the voters of New Hampshire were concerned, it did not have any effect at all. What the Bernie Sanders campaign proves is that once the masses begin to move, they will cut across all the divisive issues of race, gender, religion and nationality. Those who try to split and disorient the movement will be mercilessly thrust aside. The working class and the revolutionary youth need unity to change society.
While all the other candidates continue to sing the praises of capitalism, Bernie Sanders poses awkward questions about the existing model of society. He has mercilessly attacked the big banks and Wall Street, pointing out that the vast majority of all the wealth produced by the American working class goes to the one percent of the richest. He advocates increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and breaking up big Wall Street banks. He describes Wal-Mart as a beneficiary of the welfare state. The same can be said of all US banks and big corporations.
This is what he refers to as a “rigged economy, a system” in which a powerful wealthy elite exercise domination over everyday people, not just economically but politically. That is a fair description of 21st century capitalism in the USA and everywhere else where Capital rules the roost. Sanders would increase income tax rates for those earning over $250,000, boosting their rate to 37 percent. Those at the top end of the income scale — earning more than $10 million a year — would pay 52 percent in income taxes. Sanders would also increase other fees or taxes, including Social Security taxes for higher incomes. In addition, he would tax capital gains at the same percentage as income a taxpayer makes from work.
He says all young people should have the opportunity to receive an education, find employment, and earn an income; that there should be free and appropriate education for every individual in America. He asserts that through education, youth in America can have access to a wider range of jobs and can become more productive members of society. His proposal for single-payer healthcare goes far further than Obamacare scheme.
There are many things in Sanders’ programme that will be very attractive to many people in the USA. Many of these things we agree with, such as universal health care, free education, the reduction of student debt and a $15 per hour minimum wage. The big question that has to be answered, however, is how are these things to be achieved without breaking the power of the big banks and monopolies?
He has proposed breaking up the nation’s largest banks, saying the six biggest ones wield too much control over the economy. He has also proposed barring banks’ chief executives from serving on the Federal Reserve’s 12 regional boards of directors, saying their membership on those boards poses a conflict of interest and undermines regulation of the financial services industry. But similar proposals have been made many times before, notably by Theodore Roosevelt a hundred years ago, without the slightest long-term effect.
The idea of breaking up the big trusts is even older than that. This idea flies in the face of the most fundamental laws of capitalism that Karl Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto. Marx explains that competition inevitably leads to monopoly. The bigger firms will always swallow up the smaller ones. Marxists say that this control is only possible by expropriating the big banks and corporations. But Bernie Sanders does not advocate that. Instead he advocates breaking up the big banks and regulating capitalism. He says Franklin D. Roosevelt is his favourite president.
This is a significant remark, as is his statement that the socialism he has in mind is like that of Scandinavia, that is to say, a kind of regulated capitalism with a welfare state and less inequality. The problem with this idea is that it no longer exists, even in Scandinavia. We Marxists say: we will fight for every reform that represents a genuine improvement of the lives of workers and youth, but we must be prepared to draw all the necessary conclusions.
When the bourgeois critics of Sanders warn that his programme can only be carried out by a revolution from below, they are quite right. If this fight is to be successful, it must end in the overthrow of the dictatorship of Wall Street and the big banks and corporations. The only way to break the power of big private monopolies is to replace private monopolies with a state monopoly of the banks and big corporations. Instead of the dictatorship of a tiny handful of boardroom bosses, a socialist planned economy would be under the democratic control and management of the working class.
Can he win?
The battle for the US presidency has shifted into a new gear as caucuses and primary elections are held state by state until June. So could Sanders win the nomination for president? That depends on many things. His victory in New Hampshire will not necessarily be repeated in other states, particularly in the South where, at least for the moment, Sanders is in a weaker position relative to his opponent.
After the New Hampshire victory Sanders said: They're throwing everything at me except the kitchen sink, and I have the feeling that kitchen sink is coming pretty soon as well." That feeling is well founded. They will pull every dirty trick in the book and mobilise all their resources to stop him. Hillary Clinton says she will fight for every vote in every state, and we do not doubt that this is the truth. She has the backing of the powerful Democratic Party machine.
The so-called system of “super delegates” means that Sanders is likely to need 60-70 percent to win. That is a mammoth task. Nevertheless, in the end it is not inconceivable that he might win. The mood of anger against the Establishment is so strong that the Party machine may not be as formidable an obstacle as it seems. The situation is so volatile that almost anything can happen.
What will occur if Bernie Sanders does not win the nomination? That depends on how he will react. He has stated publicly that if defeated he would support Hillary or any other candidate the Party should choose. If he does that it would provoke a wave of disappointment among his followers. The movement he has inspired could evaporate like a drop of hot water on a hot stove. But that is by no means the only possibility.
The movement around Bernie Sanders has built up a great head of steam and this will tend to accelerate and grow in the coming months. There is a dynamic interaction between Sanders and the growing movement he heads. If in the end they are cheated of victory by the manoeuvres of the Party machine, there will be an explosion of anger that must have an effect on Sanders who will be under immense pressure not to accept the result.
What this campaign has already proved is that what were assumed to be the laws of politics in the USA were in fact only customs and traditions that can be broken and are in fact being broken. It cannot therefore be excluded that this could lead to Sanders breaking with the Democratic Party and moving in the direction of setting up a new party to the left of the Democrats. That would represent a fundamental change in the whole situation.
Sanders and the Democratic Party
Lenin pointed out that history knows all kinds of peculiar transformations and there have been many such transformations lately. The mould of politics has been broken in one country after another: Greece, Spain, and Britain to cite only the most obvious examples. This is no accident. The crisis that began in 2008 and still continues has had a profound effect on consciousness. Traditional political structures have been subjected to irresistible pressures and in many cases have been shattered by these pressures.
In such a situation it is necessary to examine the processes very carefully and make sure that our tactics, slogans and orientation are in tune with a situation that is changing rapidly. That is as true of the USA as any other country. We have said many times that there is no real difference between Republicans and Democrats. Is that still the case? Of course, it is. In the words of the great American writer Gore Vidal: “Our Republic has only one party – the Property Party – with two right wings.” That is absolutely correct and needs to be made clear as the starting point of any Marxist analysis.
However, the starting point is not yet the end of the journey, and this journey can take all kinds of strange paths that were not expected by us – or anyone else. The Sanders campaign definitely represents an important new factor in the equation. One thing is the Democratic Party and another thing is the mass campaign that has developed around the person of Bernie Sanders. We must be careful to make this distinction. It has already made by many of those who follow Sanders, not because he is a Democrat but because he says he is a socialist.
Sanders has not been a Democrat for long. He was an independent socialist, a former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, who caucused with Democrats on Capitol Hill. The Democratic Party Establishment clearly accepted him as a candidate because they thought he could be used to pull a few progressives into the Party and there seemed to be no possibility of his being elected. A similar mistake was made in Britain by the leaders of the Labour Party when they allowed Jeremy Corbyn’s name to be put on the ballot paper for Party leader. It was made for exactly the same reason: these people are completely out of touch with the real mood of society. As in other countries, the political elite in the USA is utterly remote from reality.
We stand for the creation of a Labour Party in the USA. We say that the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party that cannot be changed. That is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. It is necessary to say concretely how a Labour Party can be formed. In the past we maintained that it would probably come from the trade unions that would break their political ties with the Democrats. That was a reasonable hypothesis to make. But like any other hypothesis it must be tested against experience.
There have been many attempts to campaign for a labour Party based on the unions, but they have led nowhere. The degeneration of the union leadership in the USA has probably gone further than anywhere else. The union leaders have absolutely no intention of either breaking with the Democrats or setting up a Labour Party. In fact, the very idea fills them with terror.
The movement for a left alternative to the Democrats, blocked by the union bureaucracy, has not gone away. The discontent with the Democratic Party leadership has never been as intense as it is today. But it has surfaced in the movement around Bernie Sanders. Of course, we must always proceed from the fundamentals if we are not to be blown off course by ephemeral developments. But it is perfectly clear that something is changing in US politics and we need to analyse it carefully and draw the necessary conclusions.
One thing is the finished programme and ideas of Marxism, but another thing, altogether different, is the necessarily unfinished, confused and contradictory consciousness of the masses. We cannot expect that young people who are only just awakening to political life will have a clear understanding of the nature of things. It is the task of the Marxists to provide the necessary clarity. But this cannot be done by merely reiterating the general propositions of Marxism (although they may be one hundred percent correct). It is necessary to actively engage with the movement, enter into a meaningful dialogue with it, share in its collective experience, and of course, to patiently explain in terms that can be understood.
The work of the Marxists would be very simple indeed if the masses would enter the political struggle with a ready-made socialist consciousness. In that case there would be no need to take the trouble to build a Marxist organisation. But we know that this is not the case, that the masses enter the struggle with very confused ideas and only slowly, on the basis of experience, do they begin to understand the realities of the situation.
While patiently explaining the limitations of left reformism and defending the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, it is essential that we build bridges to the young people who support Bernie Sanders. The comrades of the WIL have correctly pointed out that “in this epoch of capitalist crisis, it is only a short step from an amorphous striving for basic rights and modest reforms to drawing fully revolutionary conclusions. The rising interest in socialism is a worldwide phenomenon, with different versions flowing from each country’s traditions and history: Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for leader of the Labour Party in Britain; Pablo Iglesias and the rise of Podemos in Spain; Tsipras and Syriza’s election in Greece. Here in the US we are experiencing our own variant, distorted through the prism of a country with an anti-Communist past and without a traditional mass workers’ party.
“For lack of a viable alternative, and with the labour leaders not offering a class-independent way forward, many workers find themselves voting “Democrat” when election season rolls around. Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont, is running as a Democrat for that party’s presidential nomination. His call for a political revolution and for democratic socialism resonates with millions of Americans disappointed with Obama’s false promise of change. After years of anaemic “recovery,” austerity, and outrageous inequality, his railing against the “billionaire class” has struck a chord from Minneapolis to Maine.”
All this shows that beneath the surface of American politics the tectonic plates are moving. Sooner or later this will produce an earthquake. What we are witnessing are the first tremors that announce the arrival of a cataclysm.